Today's NFL features perhaps the most active and fearless group of general managers its seen in quite some time. We saw a number of blockbuster trades go down ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, and that trend continued through Round 1 on Thursday night.
As the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons for 13 seasons, I learned several things about executing trades: 1) It's important that both sides feel the exchange was a win-win; 2) It's equally -- if not more -- important to have good working relationships with your peers around the league. Portraying publicly that a trade was beneficial for both teams involved was always a critical aspect of keeping the door open for future trades.
I'll tell you one thing for sure: Finalizing draft day trades are some of the most exhilarating moments of the job, especially those that occur in Round 1. Back in 2011, we stunned the football world by sending five picks to the Cleveland Browns to move up from No. 27 to sixth overall in order to draft Julio Jones. Yes, it was a huge move -- and it paid dividends for the organization over the next decade.
On Thursday, we saw three trades in the first round. Below, I assess both sides of these transactions.
Leapfrogging the rival New York Giants to land Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith was an acute move by Howie Roseman. The Eagles knew they had to take an aggressive approach to improve the wide receiver position after the offseason departures of DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, and jumping in front of a team that was likely eyeing the same prospect was a huge win for Roseman, Jalen Hurts and this franchise.
The Cowboys long had their sights set on the cornerback position at No. 10, but with the top two cornerback prospects (Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II) already gone, they wisely traded back, gaining an extra pick and getting one of the top defensive players in this draft just two spots later. I talked to Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, with whom I spent six seasons in Atlanta, and he was very pleased with landing linebacker Micah Parsons, an impact defender who fits right into his system.
There was pressure on Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy coming into the draft, and I commend them on moving up nine spots to take a talented quarterback in Justin Fields. Not many folks thought he'd still be around at No. 11. Pace and Nagy knew they needed to strike while the iron was hot and they did. There will be some growing pains -- like with most rookie quarterbacks -- but I'm high on the Bears' aggressive move.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman knew the prospect he coveted at No. 11 -- presumably DeVonta Smith -- and when the Alabama star wasn't going to be on the board for him any more, he responded in a very effective manner. He was able to gain draft capital, including an extra first-round pick next year, and get good value by drafting a solid receiver in Kadarius Toney at No. 20.
This was the third win-win trade of the night. Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have a great understanding of what they need to improve the offense and did just that with their pair of first-round picks (QB Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall and OL Alijah Vera-Tucker at No. 14). With O-linemen coming off the board early in the teens, the Jets knew they couldn't sit on their hands. They capitalized on the opportunity to trade up and selected a versatile player to protect their new franchise quarterback. This was a good night for the Jets camp.
Vikings GM Rick Spielman had the foresight to know they could trade back and get better value at the offensive tackle position with the top two players off the board when they got on the clock at 14. When you trade back, there is always a risk of getting a lower-graded player in a place of need, and GMs have to be comfortable with that. The Vikings were able to still get their top need at No. 23 in OT Christian Darrisaw, a good thing because Spielman couldn't walk away from Round 1 without an edge blocker.
Former Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is providing analysis for NFL Media throughout the 2021 NFL Draft.